‘I’m jobless. I can’t start a business also because friends refuse me loans’
SYED WASIF HAIDER, a resident of Kanpur, UP, was jailed for eight years, before the courts finally acquitted him of all charges on 14 August 2009. As a part of the delegation meeting the president on 18 November, he had only one thing to say: “Please stop the media from defaming me. I was declared innocent in 2009. Yet, the local media drags my name in whenever there’s a blast. I’m facing a social boycott. Children in the locality don’t play with a ‘terrorist’s’ daughters. Relatives feel police will hound them for visiting me.”
After his arrest, nine cases, including rioting, waging war against the State, sedition, ferrying arms and explosives were slapped against Haider. Every single case fell apart because the courts either refused to entertain the confessional statement made in police custody (which often found space in the media) or found the witnesses “unable to establish” that Haider had a role in the Kanpur bomb blasts of 14 August 2000 and other offences.
At the time of his arrest, Haider was 29. The only son of his parents, he left behind a pregnant wife and three children, while he spent eight years shuttling between Kanpur Jail, the Navi Central Jail in Allahabad and the Central Prison in Fatehgarh.
TEHELKA met Haider at his lawyer friend’s house in east Delhi. Here, this wellbuilt man in his early forties lives with his memories. Recounting his trauma, he says the police hung him upside down in a dark cell for three days after picking him up. Then they pushed washing powder and water down his nose. Then electricity was passed through his toes till he fainted. His torturers never left any mark on his body because that would have muddied their FIR claims. Interestingly, the interrogation also included questions on what sect of Islam he followed.
“I replied I was a Muslim, but they insisted on sect and ideology. Later I realised if one follows Salafist Islam, it becomes easy for them to label him a Lashkar-e-Toiba loyal. Sunni Barelvi groups would be linked with Hizbul Mujahideen,” Haider says.
Unable to bear it anymore, Haider finally gave in to the torture, agreeing to confess on video camera to whatever the police wanted. In the confession made under duress, Haider said he was trained by the Hizbul Mujahideen in Kashmir and Pakistan — information that found its way to the media.
“My wife had to sell her jewellery to make ends meet,” says Haider. “Some 38 lakh went into meeting legal expenses (the case went right up to Supreme Court). Today I’m jobless. I can’t start a business because friends refuse me loans. Wherever I go looking for a job, once they learn about my eight years in jail, companies tell me they will get back to me. They never get back.”
Incredibly, even after the courts acquitted Haider, the media did not stop its trial. Thanks to “anonymous sources”, and a total disregard for accountability, some blast or the other was always linked with Kanpur, and not surprisingly, Haider’s name would crop up. For instance, the Dainik Jagran dated 9 December 2010 had a news item on a terror attack that suggested the likelihood of links with Kanpur and mentioned Haider along with others as ‘atanki’ (terrorist).
Holding up the Dainik Jagran dated 9 January 2011 as an example, Haider shows a headline, which after translation reads: “Garbage Overwhelms Basketball Court”. Then he shows the next day’s paper (10 January 2011) which says: “Garbage Being Lifted from Basketball Court”. “This is the impact of the media,” says Haider. “Now imagine how I was demonised.”